simple is beautiful
New York Daily Photo: Artiste Extraordinaire
2 ... 2 ...

Monday, 21 May 2007

Artiste Extraordinaire

First, I must confess that the subject of this post, Philippe Petit, is a long time acquaintance, so this may not be totally objective. For those who do not know him, Philippe's accomplishments are many: tight-rope walker, unicyclist, magician, juggler, pantomime artist, pickpocket and the earliest modern day street juggler in Paris in 1968. But he is best known for his walk between the World Trade Center towers on August 7, 1974. This walk, done without permission, was planned over a period of six years - he made over 200 visits, posing variously as architect, construction worker and tourist. Many have asked how well he "made" it across - he didn't just make it - he did eight crossings over a period of 45 minutes. He has been working the streets of NYC since the 1970s, particularly Sheridan Square and Washington Square Park, where for years he was a regular on Sunday afternoons. Philippe’s ability to gather and hold a crowd is legendary (click here), as is his tenaciousness - he has been arrested for street performing over 500 times. His show, which is completely silent and frequently punctuated with gags and bits involving the audience (click here), features ball juggling, hat manipulation, unicycling and club juggling on a slack rope, supported between a tree and lamppost. He creates his performance space by outlining a chalk circle - no one is allowed to step inside. The occasional violator is dealt with cleverly and handily - click here. His show completed, Philippe packs his tools ritualistically and rides off on his unicycle. Only to return for meeting, greeting and the obligatory book signing - click here. Philippe has authored six books. To Reach the Clouds is a wonderful work, telling the story of his twin towers walk. I also recommend episode eight of the Ric Burns documentary, New York - The Center of the World (Part 8), where Philippe is interviewed and "is the spiritual heart of the film'' according to Burns. Philippe has done a number of commemorative street performances since 911 in Washington Square. This performance was to call awareness to the proposed (and controversial) renovation of the park. When asked why he does what he does: "When I see three oranges, I juggle; when I see two towers, I walk."


Post a Comment